A reader asked me: “I see on the maps that Gonen is well located, so why have I never heard of this community?” The answer is that, despite the government’s new “Israeli” name, everyone still refers to the neighborhood by its original name Katamon.
Katamon was established just before World War I. The neighborhood initially became home to Jews evacuated from the Old City during the 1948 War of Independence, and later to many waves of new immigrants.
Katamon is located in southern Jerusalem, and is bounded by Talbieh to the northeast, and the German Colony and the Greek Colony to the southeast. The name Katamon is Greek meaning “below the monastery,” alluding to the nearby San Simon monastery which is surrounded by a large public park. Katamon has local supermarkets, cafes and local retailers, and is a 15-minute stroll from Emek Refaim. It is just a few minutes by bus, or under 25 minutes by foot, to the center of Jerusalem.
Katamon actually branches out into several neighborhoods, collectively called Katamonim (or officially: Gonenim). Over the years, some of the Katamonim neighborhoods have become known by other names. For example, “Katamon Hei (5)” is now more commonly known as San Simon.
Prior to the 1967 Six Day War, the Katamonim were located along the Israeli–Jordanian armistice line and had to defend itself against Jordanian sniper fire, hence the name Gonenim which means 'Defenders.' After the Six Day War, the government embarked on a massive urban renewal project in which the neighborhood’s infrastructure and housing stock, much of which was housing projects built to accommodate the large influx of new immigrants, were improved.
With its many tree-lined streets and lovely parks, Katamon’s population, comprised of religious and secular Jews, has grown to over 5,000 residents. It has become a haven for younger Dati Leumi (national religious) families due to its many community centers and educational institutions, and, just as important, because the cost of housing can be up to 25% lower than neighboring communities such as Talbieh, the German Colony and Rechavia.
In terms of shuls, there is something for everyone. To name but a few: the Rambam synagogue, led by the charismatic Rav Benny Lau, is located in nearby Greek Colony; in the heart of Katamon is the famous Shtiblach, providing minyanim throughout the day; and Rav Ian Pear at the Shir Hadash synagogue attracts many English speakers. Katamon is also home to a number of institutions with post-high school overseas programs such as Matan and Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi.
Many English speakers looking for a laid back community have found Katamon, particularly the neighborhood of Old Katamon, to be a very comfortable fit.
“My Israel Home” is a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy homes in Israel. You may contact Gedaliah Borvick at email@example.com. To read previous articles, please visit his blog at www.myisraelhome.com.